(Ed Note: The following article is a continuation of the history of automobile dealerships in Lawrence County begun earlier on this blog.)
2. Lawrenceville Auto Co. One of the Eight Automobile Dealers in Lawrenceville in 1924
In 1909, Clyde Stoltz and his first partner, Charles F. Ratcliff, after some discussion, agreed that $2000 would be needed to form a partnership for the business of selling and repairing automobiles. Ratcliff was at that time a railroad machinist at Mount Carmel, and Stoltz was working in the oil fields. Ratcliff was to keep the machines running and Stoltz was to sell them.
The two rented the room now occupied by Ryan’s Fitness Place at 720 11th Street and began selling cars. They thought that perhaps they could sell eight or ten cars the following season, and Mr. Stoltz remembered that they did, in fact, sell about that many.
The first automobile sold by the new firm was to Robert T. Gillespie, south of Bridgeport and the price was $2,500, paid in cash. The second sale was to J. A. Campbell of Lawrenceville for $2,580. The extra $80 for the Campbell car was for a more efficient carbide lighting system that was ordered from a catalog and installed by Ratcliff. Stoltz sold L. C. David his first car, a Ford, and then had to teach him how to drive. Lester B. Fish recalled that Stoltz sold a Chalmers to his family and taught them all how to drive.
Prior to these sales, other cars had been sold in the county, including six in the city of Lawrenceville. K. J. Crackel and P. B. McCullough each owned Ramblers. F. W. Keller and J. E. McGaughey owned Wintons, Robert L. Fitch owned an Interstate, and Otis Swinehart had a Buick.
The next year, 1910, Stoltz attended the National Automobile Show in Chicago where 202 different makes of cars were on display with all kinds of wheels, steering devices, lighting systems, tops and frames. Mitchells, Banners, Marmans, Glydes, Loziers, Marions, and Whites were among those early cars. Stoltz thought that the Kissel Kar was the best automobile at that time and began selling them in Lawrence County.
The increased number of automobiles in the county forced street improvement. In 1910, Twelfth Street was paved with bricks, installed by hand one at a time, from Walnut to Cedar which was, at that time, the south city limits. There was not another foot of hard road improvement in the entire county or for that matter, in Vincennes.
Stoltz and Ratcliff are also credited with the beginning of the service station business in Lawrenceville. Gasoline was hauled to their place in 50-gallon drums from the Indian Refining Company by David Ruth who used a team of mules to pull the wagon. The gasoline cost them eight cents per gallon and they retailed it at 10 cents. They also sold Standard Oil’s Polarine oil for 15 cents a quart.
After about a year, Charles Ratcliff’s interest was purchased by Burke Childress and soon afterwards, Childress and Stoltz erected the large white garage building on West State Street, across from New Leaf Fitness now. In 1912, Childress sold his interest in the Lawrenceville Auto Company to Stoltz, who continued at that location until 1918.
Early in 1918, Mr. Stoltz joined the Wabash Valley Motor Company with A. L. Maxwell and others, and sold his garage business on State Street to L. C. David. By 1924, David was the exclusive agent for the popular Dodge Car.